Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Mandibles: Introduction

Funny, here I was trying to get back into literary flayings like I did in the olden days, and a potential specimen falls into my lap. I do appreciate it when it's easy. Just wish I wasn't late to the party this time.

I'd never heard of Lionel Shriver until a week ago and therefore I have no real opinion of her work (other than the general disdain I have for all "literary novelists"). I know that one of her books was the source for the film We Need To Talk About Kevin, one of those films that some of my arthouse goon acquaintances liked but which I never had any interest in seeing. Beyond that, she wasn't a wingnut (as far as I knew) and was therefore completely off my radar, both as an earnest reader and a snarky wiseass.

Then in September, Shriver went off on a long self-pitying rant because one reviewer (Ken Kalfus of the Washington Post) had dared - dared! - to write a critical review of her latest novel, something that is unheard of in the self-important and sycophantic world of literary fiction. But worse than that, this peon had the temerity to point out some racially insensitive content in her book. Shriver went on at great length about the tyranny of political correctness and the corrosive notion of cultural appropriation and a lot of other things that had nothing at all to do with what Ken Kalfus wrote.

I feel that last bit is important. Read the review for yourself - at no point does Kalfus say anything about "appropriation" or suggest that Shriver or any other author not be allowed to write non-white characters. All of this was invented to stoke the passions of a conservative audience and give Shriver a basis for her own variation on the classic "Is there no justice anymore for a wealthy white person?" rant. Kalfus says more about the humorlessness of the prose than about Shriver's stereotypes, and he certainly never claims that she "yearns to bring back slavery," as she puts it. And even this critical strike still contains its share of ass-kissing ("Shriver is, nevertheless, an engaging writer. Even with their speechifying and the tediousness of the story, her characters solicit your sympathy, much more than they usually do in genre science fiction."). It's a lot nicer than, say, mine would be.

Hey, there's an idea. Why don't I properly shred this thing? It sounds awful - a hate-fantasy about Mess'cans and liberals teeming up to destroy the economy, sort of a Left Behind for the Trumpist alt-right. And although I really enjoyed taking apart the works of McArdle and Brooks at the joints, my true passion has always been for literary dissections. So why not?

This series is going to be a bit different, especially to the few of you who remember my incomplete attempt to disassemble Agenda 21. I'm limited by time in more ways than one, and I haven't read The Mandibles in its entirety, so I really can't do a page-by-page analysis like I tried to do before. This will be more like a really in-depth review, continuing for as long as I have my copy and can muster the desire to keep reading. I'm serious about that - I've read the first chapter and I'm already longing for the dynamism of A21's identical concrete rooms and dull-witted Mary Sue protagonist. On the other hand, I'm once more stuck with a large print edition so this will at least have that in common with A21.

In short, I'm setting the bar very low for this project, which I will declare an unqualified success if I can make it to the halfway mark without this blog devolving into a series of rants about the entire New York literary community being composed of a pack of childlike brand chasers.

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